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Event in parliament calls for continued collaboration and investment in neglected tropical diseases

31 January 2024

The All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and the UK Coalition Against NTDs organised an event at the House of Lords under the theme ‘Unite, Act, Eliminate’ to commemorate World NTD Day on 30 January.  

The event called on UK decision makers to champion the adoption of comprehensive, partnership-driven strategies to eliminate NTDs within UK aid and broader global health policies, programmes and investments. To resume support and funding for cross-sectoral collaborations and continue investment into research that builds on innovative approaches, strategies and tools to deliver on its commitment to the sustainable development goals and the Kigali Declaration on NTDs. 

It brought together over 120 different stakeholders, including MPs, researchers, civil society, and journalists, who heard from affected communities, the World Health Organization (WHO), global health organisations, industry, and research in person and virtually.

Speakers at the event – from left to right: Dr Fall, Tijana Williams, Dr Wendy Harrison, Lord Trees, Dr Guruge and Fidel Strub. Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.

Lord Trees, Co-Chair of the APPG on Malaria and NTDs, hosted and opened the event by emphasising the UK’s involvement in NTDs, including its recent successes. He said: 

“Historically, the UK has played a big role in NTDs. British scientists have been active on them before they were even called neglected tropical diseases. The reduction in our official development assistance a few years ago has negatively impacted the support the UK is giving in this area. We hope nonetheless that the new white paper will help leverage more funding. An hour ago, I managed to get an assurance from the minister of business innovation and science for associate membership, which will enable us to have collaborative research programmes with scientists in endemic countries.”

Dr Socé Fall – Director for NTDs, World Health Organization. Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.

Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director for NTDs at WHO, stated:

Today, as we commemorate World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day under the theme Unite, Act, Eliminate, it’s important that we celebrate progress – 50 affected countries have eliminated at least one NTD. But we must not shy away from the challenges we are facing right now, including the disproportionate impact of NTDs on women and girls. I extend my gratitude to all stakeholders, partners, healthcare workers and communities, who have made significant strides in this endeavour. Together, let us continue to push boundaries, to advocate for the underserved and work tirelessly to achieve our goals. I look forward to working with you to build a future where health equity is not just a goal but a reality for all.

Fidel Strub – Co-Founder and Director, Elysium Noma Survivors Association. Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.

Fidel Strub, Co-Founder and Director of Elysium Noma Survivors Association, gave a personal and powerful account, about living with Noma – a disease now officially recognised as an NTD by the WHO.  

He recalled:

The damages to my face were so extensive. I endured 27 operations of reconstructive surgeries, six years of daily speech therapy and psychological treatment. Six months it took me to learn how to blow out a candle. Elysium was born in 2022. We share our story to show you how much Noma affected us and why we cannot accept that this disease still exists. We are the lucky ones. We are one out of ten who made it. We believe our stories, filled with pain but also with resilience and hope, can serve as catalyst for change, inspiring a movement that protects future generations from the cruelty of Noma and all NTDs.

Dr Dini Guruge – Consultant for Dengue Global Programme, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative. Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.

Dr Dini Guruge, Consultant for Dengue Global Programme at Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, added:  

“A study in Brazil found that women with dengue haemorrhagic fever, the most serious form of dengue, were 450 times at greater risk of maternal mortality than a pregnant woman without dengue. What we saw with COVID-19 is what we see each season with dengue outbreak in endemic countries. We need long-term partners and champions, like the UK, to continue to support this journey towards making the end of dengue and all NTDs a real possibility. It can be done but it needs everyone working together.” 

Dr Dinesh Mondal of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research and Professor Nazmul Islam of the Centre for Disease Control in Bangladesh shared heartfelt testimonies from the country’s elimination successes for visceral leishmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis.  

Joining via video Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director at WHO for Southeast Asia, said: 

“I want to begin by extending my utmost gratitude to the United Kingdom for its partnership in our battle against neglected tropical diseases. In 2016, India became the first and only country in the world certified as Yaws free and across the region, six countries have now eliminated lymphatic filariasis or trachoma as a public health problem. For these and other game-changing outcomes, political commitment has been crucial. Together, we can, and we will finish the task of eliminating NTDs, an important prerequisite for achieving universal health coverage, leaving no one behind. But let this last mile take no longer than it needs to.”

Tijana Williams of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) spoke of GSK’s investment in research and development for NTDs and the importance of UK government funding in global health. 

Dr Wendy Harrison – CEO, Unlimit Health. Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.

Dr Harrison concluded: 

“Building on the Kigali declaration’s call for a comprehensive NTD programmes, we as the NTD coalition against NTDs and the NTD community, call on the UK government to continue to champion the adoption of comprehensive partnership-driven strategies that promote gender equity and support country ownership to eliminate NTDs. Recognising how this aligns with the UK aid agenda and to resume support for cross-sector collaborations that support the development of these resilient systems and continue to invest in research that build on innovative approaches, strategies and tools to deliver on its commitment to the Kigali declaration on NTDs. But also, absolutely key to the success of the sustainable development goals and to reaching universal health coverage.” 

The event closed with the winners of the Shine a Light poster competition organised by Unlimit Health, receiving their prizes from CEO Dr Wendy Harrison and Lord Trees. “We are always so impressed with the creativity of our young people, and it also teaches us a lot about how we need to reach out to young people interested in NTDs”, said Dr Harrison.

Some of the winners of this years’ Shine a Light poster competition – from left to right: Zarin O’Garrow, Agnes Malin, Arda Asir, Danish Alam.  Image by: Paula Plaza/Unlimit Health.


The UK Coalition against NTDs membership also includes Martha Varney from the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, The International Coalition for Trachoma Control, CBM Christian Blind Mission, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative – DNDi, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Orbis International, The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, and The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.